Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
WEDNESDAY 21 MARCH 2001
TOMLINSON, CBE, MR
60. Is it particularly beneficial, do you think,
to those sorts of pupils at that age who have not, as you say
they should have, acquired these basic skills?
(Mr Tomlinson) The schools are using it for cohorts
of pupils for whom the full national curriculum is not seen as
the most appropriate experience and they therefore are getting
a certain part of it disapplied to enable them to take roughly
about 20 per cent of the curriculum time to occupy the work-related
courses. That is what is happening in a number of schools. And
increasing numbers of schools would wish to do this.
Chairman: Thank you for that point. We will
move on now to pupil behaviour.
61. Have you seen improvements in pupil behaviour,
either at the primary or early secondary level, over the last
three or four years?
(Mr Tomlinson) We were seeing improvements up to 1999-2000.
On the evidence coming from inspections from 1993-94 onwards behaviour
was steadilynot dramatically, but steadilyimproving.
The preface to saying that, of course, is that the vast majority
of our schools are orderly establishments where people respect
each other and people respect property. I think we must not get
it out of context. But for this year 1999-2000 was the first time
that inspectors had reported an increase in the proportion of
secondary schools where behaviour was less than satisfactory.
It was largely centred upon latter stages of Key Stage 3; that
is, round about pupils of 13 or 14.
62. Do you see a differential between those
schools that have a formal behaviour policy, which is taken on
board by pupils, parents, governors, teachers and, more importantly
or just as importantly, classroom assistants and also lunchtime
supervisors right the way through the school? Have you done any
work on schools which have introduced a behaviour policy which
is an all-school behaviour policy?
(Mr Tomlinson) Yes. Last month we published a report
on improving attendance and behaviour in secondary schools which
was a report that looked in detail at ten schools where exclusions
and behaviour-related issues were a major concern. This was a
follow-up to the Social Exclusion Unit's request to us. We also
included a further 80 schools that we visited. So the report details
what was happening in those schools. Essentially, a number of
features were found to be effective. One wasand above all
elsea clearly understood policy with regard to behaviour,
and understood not just by the pupils but understood and supported
by the parents. The parents play a crucial part in this. Where
that policy was consistently applied at all times by all staff,
whether temporary staff or permanent staff, then behaviour was
improved, exclusions fell and, not surprisingly, the achievements
of pupils rose. One of the surprising things we found was that
it was rarely the case in schools that data on absence and behaviour
was seen to have a direct link to attainment, and talking to parents
and children about "If this continues it will have the following
effect . . . It is there for you to see" has a considerable
effect. That was one thing, the whole issue of tackling absence,
authorised or unauthorised, very speedily: first morning response,
or schools, for example, that gave pagers to parents whose children
were not regular attenders where the parents had with all honesty
sent their children off to school expecting them to arrivethe
parent getting a pager ring saying, "You are going to have
to contact the school," they know what they are going to
have to contact them for. That relationship then between school,
parent and pupil was beginning to have an effect as well.
63. One of my own schools Biddulph High had
truancy busting award quite recently and I was impressed by the
work they have done in terms of stopping parents collaborating,
if you want, with pupils over absences.
(Mr Tomlinson) Yes.
64. When you inspect schools, obviously I know
you look very closely at attendance, have you got to the bottom
of those schools that really do not challenge parents about the
collaboration they have with their pupils staying off school?
We heard some amazing stories, "We had to buy a hamster",
whatever, and the whole family had to be off to choose this particular
hamster. Does OFSTED look carefully at the issue of parent involvement
in pupil absence?
(Mr Tomlinson) We have not looked in detail at the
various reasons. I certainly think that we should give greater
focus than has been given today on authorised absence as distinct
from unauthorised absence. Putting it into context, in one year
there are six million days lost through unauthorised absence compared
to one million through authorised.
The authorised is much more likely to be susceptible to the sort
of strategies that some of the schools are using to reduce that
figure. As I said before, if parents condone absence from school,
if parents will not get their children to school on time and if
they do not support the policies on behaviour within schools then
the job for schools is doubly difficult. There is a parental responsibility
here, which must be discharged in conjunction with the school.
Mr Foster: Given that a lot of parents watch
the proceedings of this Committee with interest and raise their
awareness of what is meant by unsatisfactory behaviour, could
you give examples of what it means that their children are getting
up to in a classroom situation?
65. Elizabeth has not had a chance to say a
(Ms Passmore) There are different forms of inappropriate
behaviour that disrupt the learning of pupils. Sometimes we see
a rather low level disruption, where lots of pupils are chattering
amongst themselves and as an inspector walking around you hear
the conversations, which are nothing to do with what they ought
to be. That does mean that during the course of the lesson not
a great deal is being learned. That sort of misbehaviour ought
to be able to be dealt with fairly effectively by the teacher.
Where there are problems where teachers do find it difficult to
control the pupils, where the head and the senior staff become
involved, with good strategies those things can be dealt with
fairly well. It is where you have a small group of pupils who
come into the class who are quite deliberately determined that
they nor anybody else is going to be allowed to learn; throwing
things across the classroom; being rude to the teacher and threatening
to other pupils; where that little prod in the back of the person
is front of them if applied once it may just pass and not disrupt,
but where it becomes continuous and where it becomes obviously
the sort of thing that should not be going on; a refusal to do
the work, some pupils sit there and will not do what they are
asked to do; running in and out of the classroom. I remember one
rather infamous occasion when we recorded a science lesson and
we recorded the number on the roll with the number that should
have been there and the average class size was seven, because
at any one time there were seven pupils in the room, and they
were never the same seven. In that particular school as you walked
around the school there were pupils out of class, running round
and misbehaving all of the time. The scale is very wide, from
that very low level to the other extreme and, of course, on occasions,
but very rarely when we are present, but we see it documented
in subsequent exclusion data, where pupils do, in fact, become
verbally and physically abusive to teachers.
66. Unless there are other questions I would
rather like to be move on to some other topic.
(Mr Tomlinson) I was just concerned that I made a
mistake in terms of the figures that I gave, the large figure
of six million was for authorised absence, unauthorised was one
million. I think I got it the wrong way around. I wanted to say
six million for authorised and one million for unauthorised.
67. The Committee is very pleased about that.
(Mr Tomlinson) My apologies to you all.
(Mr Taylor) What we said in the Report is that almost
nine out of ten absences from school are authorised absences on
the record, just over one in ten are unauthorised. In nine tenths
of all those cases the parents sign a chit to say that this pupil
is going to be absent. That relates rather closely to common findings
of research, which we also draw your attention to, up to 80 per
cent of all pupils found by EWOs or the police, or whatever, in
the town centre are accompanied by an adult, usually a parent,
and are on a shopping spree rather than going to school. I am
glad you are saying this is lesson to parents. We believe that
we are trying to prise open what has been a bit of a secret garden,
the assumption that unauthorised absence is something like the
true picture. The real picture is that the vast proportion of
authorised absence appears to be authorised without good reason.
Chairman: Can we move on? There are some very
interesting areas in your Report that we need to cover. I am going
move now to Local Education Authorities. This has been a pretty
traumatic period for many Local Education Authorities. I know
from my own experience, although I am not a Member of Parliament
for Leeds, it is close to my constituency and I know the feelings
of my colleagues in terms of the ramifications of OFSTED there.
68. The statement, "Successful schools
can manage their own destiny, I do not think the LEA is needed
in those cases". Would you agree with that statement?
(Mr Tomlinson) I will start from a slightly different
position, if I might. There are a number of tasks which need to
be done in order to enable any school system to operate effectively.
Some of those tasks, such as, for example, the whole issue of
ensuring there are sufficient places for pupils, ensuring that
pupils who are not given a place in a particular school have provision
made for them, particularly if they are being excluded from school,
or have special needs, and so on. There is the whole issue of
transport. There are a number of tasks which in my discussions
with head teachers they would not wish to see taken on by themselves
as individual schools. There are those schools, of course, however,
who are not capable of supporting themselves at a particular point,
for all sorts of reasons. I am pointing here to schools that need
special measures, by definition they do need some external support.
There are, therefore, tasks which need to be done on behalf of
the school, whether you have that body called the Local Education
Authority or something else it is really not something which I
feel I want to debate. The fact is, I do see there are tasks which
need to be done which would not be appropriately done by the individual
school and, therefore, there is a need for some layer in between,
and that is currently called the Local Education Authority.
69. I understand what you are saying. Assuming
that the Local Education Authority has thisI cannot think
of any other body that would have thisaccountability that
comes from a locally democratically elected members, I know that
is not your direct responsibility, but can you see the point of
having that for the local planning of schools, that local democratic
(Mr Tomlinson) I am trying to avoid getting drawn
into an area which is not my territory at all. My view would be
that after LEAs inspections clearly local elected members can
be an enormous support to the provision of an effective Local
Education Authority and services to school. They can also be a
considerable contributor to the failure of those services to provide
for the schools as well.
70. You say in your section of LEA support that
support for school improvement is unsatisfactory in one third
of the LEAs you inspect. You also particularly highlight the failure
of LEAs in respect of schools with serious weaknesses. Your report
is pretty lukewarm towards the Education Action Zones which you
inspected. Does this suggest that there is a wide range of initiatives
to come forward to try and improve the schools which are not delivering
the goods? What lessons from your evidence do you look at?
(Mr Tomlinson) I do not think I can jump to the conclusions
that you have just made. Certainly we have identified those local
authorities where support for school improvement is not good enough.
I think if you read the full Report you will see that it covers
a wide range of services which the authorities provide, for example,
for schools to improve they need to be able to rely on efficient
services that span from personnel, through to finance, through
to the speed at which young people are stable. All of those contribute
to the support that is necessary for school improvement. It is
a wide range of services. In one third they are not good enough.
We have serious concerns that so many schools who are faced with
serious weaknesses subsequently fall back within two years and
put in special measures. That is running at a very high proportion
and is a grave worry for us. That is one group of schools which
in the actual code and the circular are the direct responsibility
for local authorities to support and move out of that situation.
That does worry us greatly. In terms of the EAZs, apart from the
report recently published, a summary of the first six, I think
what we are saying there is that after some early difficulties
within those six by the time they are into their second year there
are signs of improvement, most notably in the primary sector compared
with the secondary. They did have some difficulties to begin with,
but a lot of those are now being overcome. There are early signs.
We have not yet seen what was hoped for, that is a marked significant
impact on standards.
Mr St Aubyn
71. Evidently you did give a very clean bill
of health to Surrey as an education authority. More recently I
thank you for the positive report that you gave to a school in
my constituency, which Surrey decided they could not improve on
their own so they went down a new strategy to do so. Does that
experience suggest that however good the LEA there are areas where
it would have weaknesses and the best thing you can do in that
situation is to admit it has weaknesses and reach for new, radical
(Mr Tomlinson) The first point is that it is not a
new concept for local education authorities to work in partnership
with private enterprise, it has been going on across a raft of
services for a number of years. The advent of best value actually
requires local authorities to ask the fundamental question, should
we be providing this service, are we best placed to provide it,
and so on? If they are asking those questions seriously then increasingly
they will be looking at the option of whether we should do it
or someone else should do it, or we should do it in conjunction
with somebody else. I do not think that you can inevitably assume
that it will be a success. If you read the Report on Westminster,
which contracted out all of its service some years ago, the inspection
report on that points out that whereas in some schools the service
they received was better than they had previously, for others
it was poorer. It has to be a very carefully thought out issue
that is designed to benefit and will clearly benefit those that
it is intended to. It is the danger of rushing into a simple,
single "one size fits all" solution.
72. It is not a panacea.
(Mr Tomlinson) It is not a panacea. Every school and
every circumstance is different, there is not a single solution
to all those diverse compartments.
Mr St Aubyn
73. We are all agreed with that. Is the message
to be given out by OFSTED that LEAs should be more critical of
their own performance in areas where they have weakness and not
assume that they themselves can address that, and if they might
be they should actively be considering an alternative to bring
in somebody else?
(Mr Tomlinson) I think that is right. Best value forces
them to ask those questions.
74. Your predecessor seemed to reject the notion
of schools having their own back-up systems. Are you of the view
that schools do benefit from having their own back-up systems,
in terms of not just from the LEA but outside consultants and
outside suppliers of services which might help create a more dynamic
(Mr Tomlinson) If you go to a lot of secondary schools
they are already operating very much in the sense of looking around
for who provides in-service training and who provides this, that
and the other. They are looking around and by doing all those
things as they have got more confident they have been able to
do that. Some local authorities are very active in providing schools
with good information, that is often quality assured, about the
product. Certain schools can be informed customers about whether
they purchase the local authority service or whether they purchase
the service from an alternative source. Some of the authorities
are very active in that themselves. There are a variety of models.
75. I should think that is an endorsement of
Conservative policy, give the money to schools and let them decide
how to spend it.
(Mr Tomlinson) I do not think you can take it as that
Chairman: I can assure you that rest of the
Committee do not share that.
76. The area I want to focus on is the issue
of ICT, which you focus on as being one of the main weaknesses
of LEAs. Can you say a bit about that, please?
(Mr Tomlinson) We report, as you say, it is a problem.
It has been a problem of structures within local authorities that
deliver the ICT requirements. We have been looking for detail
through the very firmly focused inspections on the ICT strategy.
In part the difficulty of the local education authorities is the
extent to which they are allowed to use the funding on infrastructure
requirements to enable them to deliver through to schools. Clearly
some of them have made mistakes in the way they have gone about
it. Some would argue, whether I accept it or not is another matter,
that they were required to do this. The question of the capacity
of local authorities is clear. It is also evident that we are
coming to grips with an entirely new requirement.
77. On occasions do you find that the lack of
structure within LEAs and the lack of expertise within schools
leads some LEAs to fall back on what has become almost a monopoly
of computer hardware and probably, even more important, software
to schools? Do you have evidence of that?
(Mr Tomlinson) Not at the moment. I will check with
colleagues. Some LEAs in the first instance invite private enterprise
to come in and there is no evidence they have been more successful
than the local authorities themselves. There are certainly some
real concerns there. I do not have any evidence on that specific
78. My concern is that schools feel that they
are under pressure from LEAs to be locked into one particular
supplier and when they then decide to invest in other types of
equipment, unless they have a very skilled ICT supervisor, they
are locked into the original company and their software to the
detriment of the sort of things they might have done, especially
something like design technology.
(Mr Tomlinson) I do not have the evidence at hand.
I will certainly ask my colleagues who are monitoring this to
see what their concern is and I will let the clerk have a written
Charlotte Atkins: If you could, because that
is an area of concern to me.
79. OFSTED had made many remarks about the quality
of teachers and teaching levels, however you do not really say,
and I was looking very carefully at this, much about the quality
of the education officers. Are we getting good quality people
and high quality people sufficient to really do the job? I know,
from my experience, of superb education authority people right
through the system, but are we getting that? Are we monitoring
them? Are we checking that the right people are coming in with
the right qualifications? If not, are they being retrained?
(Mr Tomlinson) Although not in my annual report, that
appeared in the report before that on local authorities.
1 See Q 66 below. Back